Going Social to Determine Donor Interests

Posted on 11/04/2018

Nothing makes a fundraising appeal more effective than when it speaks to a prospective donor personally. There are numerous techniques for achieving this, from addressing the prospect by name, to acknowledging an action they’ve taken in the past (such as making a gift or attending an event), or simply adding a handwritten note at the bottom of a letter. One of the best ways to make an appeal feel personal is to make sure the content aligns with the recipient’s individual interests. Instead of sending all of your prospects a generic “one size fits all” appeal, try one that shares information on—and asks them to support—something that they really care about.

But, how? Fundraisers are not mind-readers, and while alumni and donor databases can include information on prospects’ interests and preferences, that data is often limited and outdated. Fortunately, the proliferation of social media now offers a way to access and use information on prospects that tends to be more accurate than what’s sitting in the institution’s own files. And as college and university advancement programs are increasing the amount of content that they’re posting to social media channels, there is a growing opportunity to watch how alumni respond and learn more about them.

The annual giving team at Bentley University has recognized the value of utilizing social media as a donor research tool, leading them to invest more time and resources into mining it. By monitoring who “likes” and comments on particular content on Facebook and other channels, they gain valuable data points and then use that information to better inform their solicitation strategies. For example, if the university posts on their Facebook page that the basketball team has won a game and 25 alumni engage with that post, the annual giving team knows that those 25 alumni are possible prospects for future solicitations to support the basketball team.

As populations of special interest are identified, potential donors and segments are flagged in the prospect database. While there is a growing number of software tools out there to assist with this process, it’s also possible to do this manually. Then, as the team develops its solicitation strategies throughout the year, they have access to this information to help make decisions about who, how, and when to target.

According to Sue Beebee Gagné, Bentley’s Director of Annual Giving, taking advantage of social media is part of an evolution in annual giving. Younger donors are more interested in directing their philanthropy to areas that are meaningful to them, and using social media helps build a better connection with those donors and drives future investment. The team is so optimistic about this approach to donor research and marketing that they’ve created a new position on their annual giving team exclusively dedicated to engaging with alumni via social media channels. In fact, the first person they hired for the role is a recent graduate who not only has a good grasp of social media but who is also very familiar with the organization and culture of the university. And while the team hasn’t set specific dollar goals for this position yet, they hope and expect that the investment will lead to increased participation over time, particularly among younger alumni.

In this day and age, with people interacting digitally as much as (if not more than!) in person, you’re missing out on some of the best opportunities to not only engage your base but also to learn more about them if you aren’t leveraging social media channels in your work. By employing even basic data mining and analytics, you can gain valuable insight to help guide the personalization of your appeals. So go social—in this situation, no doubt it will be time well spent.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Analyzing Social Media Data to Improve Fundraising.

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The Secret to Retaining Strong Phonathon Callers

Posted on 10/28/2018

Running a student phonathon is hard work. But soliciting donations night after night as a caller can be even tougher, especially for new students who are learning how to be successful on the phone. Many college and university call center managers report that retaining callers is one of their biggest challenges. In fact, it’s not unusual for programs to have more than half of the students quit by the end of each semester. With turnover so expensive, it’s crucial to create a call center environment where students can refine their skills, feel supported, and enjoy going to work. Doing so will not only cut down on staff attrition rates, it will also ensure that your program is productive.

The phonathon program at Wheaton College has found that the key to success lies first and foremost in making callers feel like they belong to a team—before they’re even taught how to use calling software or read from the fundraising script. Their phonathon team model, which has been in place for the past 10 years, continues to result in pledge rates above 55 percent and delivers more first-time donors than any other solicitation channel at the school.

Wheaton’s student callers are assigned to work the same nights for the entire semester so that groups are consistent and can develop strong relationships. More seasoned callers are given the opportunity to apply for the role of team captain; if promoted, they lead a team of 4-6 callers. Team captains work with callers both in small groups and one-on-one to teach them how to improve their calling skills. This coaching is a critical component of Wheaton’s program, helping to distribute the burden of training and management to prevent phonathon manager burnout.

New callers begin by reviewing the employee handbook and caller training manual prior to their first shift. After that, the team format becomes the primary channel for training. During the first night of each semester, the caller groups are asked to come up with a team name and perform a skit based on that name as a way to promote corporate identity. Nightly games and incentives are customized so teams have to work together, and the captains can use these opportunities to focus on developing certain team dynamics. Additional training activities continue to highlight the Phonathon Center’s central themes: unity, growth, fun, and relationships. These values are what prepare callers to have honest and authentic conversations over the phone.

According to Mark James, Wheaton’s phonathon manager, caller training is designed to rely on firmly-established team dynamics in order to teach strong fundraising fundamentals. As part of the pre-calling preparation each night, teams take time to meet together and discuss their calling assignments, as well as review various strategies to help them succeed, such as creatively navigating tone during their conversations instead of simply going through the various options presented in the script. These team discussions build the confidence of the callers so they are comfortable with resolving challenging situations and gaining the trust of their donors.

In addition to strong fundraising results, caller retention is high. Last year, Wheaton saw a 60 percent retention rate of recent hires, and a 9 percent absenteeism rate throughout the semester. On average, only three employees will quit before the semester ends. By developing people, Wheaton is not only creating a stronger call center, but also cultivating its next generation of donors and advocates.

The more confident and comfortable callers feel with each other, the more confidently and comfortably they will be able to communicate their experiences and requests to donors. By investing in caller teams, you can focus on relationship-building tactics that also translate to donor conversations, helping to provide a basis for a lifetime of support—from student callers and alumni alike.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Recruiting & Retaining Quality Callers.

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Offering Donors the Option to Restrict Their Gifts

Posted on 10/21/2018

Making the case for annual fund support used to be pretty straightforward. Potential donors would often be asked to make an “unrestricted” gift to support the institution’s current needs. Those gifts would serve a budget-relieving function and be allocated to operations — meaning that anything and everything could benefit from annual philanthropic support. Donor impact was communicated in very general terms, such as supporting “margins of excellence” or “school priorities,” since annual gifts could potentially be directed to any aspect of the institution.

But due to the growing awareness donors have about the unique programs and opportunities at their alma maters, fully unrestricted giving has become less appealing in recent years. Increasingly, donors want to direct their annual philanthropic dollars to areas that are interesting or meaningful to them. In response to this shift, many annual funds are giving donors the option to be more targeted with their support.

Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland has seen how allowing donors to restrict their annual gift can have a positive impact on participation rates and overall fundraising results. A few years ago, the annual giving team conducted an internal assessment of how they were communicating the case for support in their appeals. What they determined through this process was that much of their past marketing had been focused on soliciting unrestricted gifts, with occasional references to how the annual fund supports tuition assistance and distinct areas of school life. The team realized that their messaging was not only inconsistent, it was also unclear about how donors were making an impact.

As part of a new marketing strategy, Saint Ignatius decided to fully embrace messaging that highlighted where annual donors could direct their support. After engaging in discussions internally about donor priorities, the team proposed creating five specific categories within the annual fund that donors could use to direct their gift: tuition assistance, faculty through academics, the fine arts program, activities associated with the school’s Jesuit mission, and athletics. A “greatest need” option was also maintained for donors who did not want to direct their gift and for any gifts received without a designation. The school’s finance and administrative team was supportive of the new marketing plan, and because all of these designations were existing funding priorities, the annual fund would have the same budget-relieving impact for the organization.

To introduce the community to the new annual fund designations, the team redesigned appeals and marketing strategies. They also created special branding for the athletics designation, naming it after a beloved and longstanding athletic director, Father Sullivan. Advertising for The Father Sullivan Fund now appears in athletic programs and on the scoreboards during sporting events. In addition to the messaging in appeals, donors receive specific stewardship touches throughout the year that align with the direction of their annual gift.

According to Dan Malone, the Director of Annual Fund and Leadership Giving at Saint Ignatius, marketing the restricted giving options has helped increase alumni participation, particularly among younger graduates. Nearly 50 percent of total annual gifts are now designated, with these donors skewing younger than those who keep their gifts unrestricted. Having the option for restricted gifts also allows the annual fund team to solicit sizeable contributions that underwrite large budgetary expenses, such a team trips or Jesuit retreats, in personal solicitations to potential major donors. The gifts are still considered part of the annual fund, but the donors feel more empowered by the choice and generally more connected to their philanthropic support.

Donors today want to know more about how they’ve made a difference, regardless of their gift size. Providing the opportunity to direct an annual fund gift can better connect them with their impact, while presenting you with valuable information on their interests and motivations that can be used to cultivate ongoing support. After all, making a donor feel good about their current gift can lead to many more gifts in the future.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Communicating with Young Alumni About Giving.

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Using Your Phonathon to Secure Gift Officer Visits

Posted on 10/14/2018

Phonathons have long been a cornerstone of annual giving programs — and with good reason. Data consistently shows that telemarketing has a higher conversion rate than direct mail and email appeals and that calling is an effective means for acquiring new donors and upgrading current donors. Quite simply, phonathons are an efficient way to engage a large number of prospects with your institution in a personal way.

Phonathons are also expensive to operate. Recruiting and training student workers, managing the call center, and maintaining the necessary technology all require time and resources. In an era of declining contact rates, this has many institutions evaluating whether their phonathon is worth the investment.

The University of Florida is investing in new ways to get the most out of their student outreach. Over the past three years, the annual fund team has added scheduling visits for UF’s leadership annual giving officers (LAGOs) to their student caller portfolio. To launch the program, the phonathon management team identified their three best callers and provided them with specialized training on how to build relationships with prospects over the phone in order to secure visits for LAGOs. The appointment-setting calls are conducted during the day to avoid interference with the regular solicitation calls, so as not to impact the phonathon’s primary, revenue-generating function.

According to Elizabeth Keppel, UF’s Director of Development for Annual Giving, the visit-scheduling strategy has paid off. With a little over 900 hours allocated to appointment setting in its first year, the phonathon was able to schedule 172 visits and generate 223 potential future visits for the LAGO team. Each of UF’s leadership annual fund officers completes close to 200 visits per year, and phonathon callers are now scheduling roughly half of them. The appointment outreach also serves as a qualifying function for the UF team. Callers generated more than 1,000 declined visits; those alumni were then deferred out of active portfolios for one to two years.

While this assistance has been critical to LAGOs’ ability to meet aggressive targets, they do still have the option to conduct their own appointment setting too. Since leadership annual giving officers are a talent pipeline to major gift officer positions at UF, the institution recognizes the importance of giving team members an opportunity to hone this skill.  

What started out as a strategy to increase the phonathon’s return on investment has now become a critical component of UF’s overall advancement strategy, allowing the annual fund to leverage their resources and make a meaningful impact across the institution. By expanding the scope of your calling program and using it in new and innovative ways, you can ensure that your phonathon remains a productive part of your advancement efforts for many years to come.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning for Phonathon Success.

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How to Make Sure Your Appeals Get Noticed

Posted on 10/07/2018

Despite the increased use of digital tactics by fundraising organizations, direct mail is alive and well. In fact, many annual giving programs still generate more than 50 percent of their revenue – and a significant number of their donors – through letters and other printed appeals. Direct mail is a scalable and relatively low-cost method for soliciting large audiences. It can also be an especially effective and efficient way to remind donors when it’s time to renew their gift each year.

Printed appeals do, however, come with their share of challenges. For one thing, it’s not easy to make them stand out from all of the other letters, magazines, and promotional materials that often clutter a donor’s mailbox. While people don’t typically think that nonprofits face competition, the truth is that there are millions of charities out there all vying for prospects’ limited attention and a share of their philanthropic wallet. If your appeals look generic, there’s a much higher likelihood that they’ll go unnoticed and unopened. Boring envelopes often find themselves on the fast track to the recycle bin.

With that in mind, there are tactics one can employ to make an envelope stand out, such as using attractive or unusual colors, testing different fonts, or luring prospects to “look inside” with curious messages and offers of special gifts. And while testing new ideas and mixing up the look and feel of each appeal is certainly important, one of the most effective ways to capture the attention of a prospect – and more importantly, to connect a prospect with your institution and its mission – is simply to highlight those very things that make your organization distinct on the outside of the appeal.

The annual fund team at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) not only recognizes how important the envelope can be to a successful appeal, but also that unique offerings make their institution a special place. As a school that’s focused on training the next generation of artists and designers, CCS wanted to emphasize its mission and inject a little creativity into their direct mail strategy.

The CCS annual fund team designed a direct mail insert that featured art from current students, but instead of using a standard envelope format for the appeal, the student art insert was folded so that a portion of the art was visible through the window of the envelope. With the art peeking through, recipients were enticed to open the appeal and see the full enclosure. The inserts were produced on high-quality paper to fully showcase the art, and the artists have rotated over the years to fully highlight the spectrum of degrees offered at CCS. Since annual fund gifts at CCS primarily support scholarships, students receiving aid were selected for the appeals, and the students’ names, hometowns, and photos were included to accompany their art and further connect donors with gift impact.

According to Anthony Spangler, CCS’s Associate Director for Individual Giving and Alumni Relations, the creative approach has paid off. The team saw a 25 percent increase in donor counts over previous direct mail appeals in the first three mailings that featured the new student art inserts, and all subsequent appeals have had higher response rates than the previous letter-only strategy. While the insert appeals have been more expensive to produce due to paper quality and the hand-matching process that the vendor uses, the team has been pleased with the response to their new approach – so much so, in fact, that all mailed appeals now include a picture of student art, either on the custom insert or on the letter itself.

If you expect to cut through the mailbox static, you’re going to have to get creative, try new approaches, and push the envelope from time to time. And there’s no better way to do this than by highlighting something that makes your institution unique. Not only will you make your appeal stand out, you’ll create an instant connection with donors who find your institution special too.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Rethinking Direct Mail Appeals.

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The “Best in Annual Giving” Challenge

Posted on 10/01/2018

Calling all annual giving professionals to rise to the challenge and share your most successful and innovative annual giving efforts with the AGN community! Submit your direct mail appeals, emails, scripts, stewardship pieces, volunteer materials, webpages, advertisements, giving day, crowdfunding or other special campaigns.

In return, each participating institution will receive access to all of the submitted examples AND receive one of the following gifts:

  • 1 Free webinar
  • 1 Free job posting
  • $100 off a 1-Year AGN Plus Membership (new or renewal)

The best submissions will be selected by a panel of AGN’s expert faculty. Winners will be announced in early 2019 and featured in articles and webinars throughout the year.

Limit 3 entries (and one gift) per institution. Please include at least one image per submission. All entries must be made by October 31, 2018.

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Renewing Donors on their Gift Anniversary

Posted on 09/23/2018

For many couples, anniversaries can be important markers for their relationship. Whether it’s to celebrate a first date, a first kiss, or a wedding, taking time to remember those important moments from the past can rekindle feelings of connection and love, and ultimately help to strengthen the bond between them. Unfortunately, during busy times, it can be easy to let an important anniversary get overlooked or forgotten. When that happens, of course, it doesn’t mean one loves the other any less. More than likely, it just means that someone could use a little nudge to help them remember.

The concept of anniversaries isn’t foreign to fundraising. For reunions, many institutions use the sentiment and goodwill surrounding the celebration of a class’ past graduation to re-engage alumni and encourage their support. Reunion programs have served as a cornerstone of major and special giving programs for decades.

Baruch College took the concept of anniversary celebrations a step further by incorporating them into their stewardship and donor retention strategy. The “Baruchiversary” was developed as a way to celebrate each donor’s prior-year gift and serve as a reminder to them that it’s time to renew their support. The campaign, which consists simply of a postcard and an email, highlights the importance of their annual giving with a personal touch.

Donors receive the Baruchiversary email at the beginning of the month of their previous year’s gift; if they don’t renew immediately, the postcard is mailed during the second week of the month. Emails are sent from the “Baruch College Fund” addressed to individual donors by name with the subject line that read “Happy Baruchiversary.” A link to a special giving form is included so that donors can renew their support and gifts generated through the campaign can be tracked. The postcards – 5,000 each year, mailed in-house to keep campaign costs low – are addressed to each donor and include “Happy Baruchiversary, You” on the front and a simple appeal on the back that reads, “We hope you will commemorate this anniversary by renewing your gift.”

According to Sidney Ko, Baruch’s Deputy Director of Special Gifts, the response from donors has been overwhelmingly positive. The open rate for Baruchiversary emails averages over 30 percent, compared to open rates for regular Baruch e-appeals averaging in the 10-15 percent range. While December sees the largest number of Baruchiversary communications, the overall annual fund appeal cycle continues to run without interruption – so donors still receive other appeals throughout the year – and the team has not received any complaints from donors about the additional communication.

And not only are donors renewing, they are also engaging in dialogue around the unique name – asking how the team came up with the idea and the proper pronunciation of the word – which serves as a talking point for staff while securing the renewed gift. With such a strong response to the Baruchiversary campaign, the team is implementing a similar “We Missed You” postcard strategy targeting multi-year lapsed donors during the month of their last gift.

Fundraising is all about building relationships, and one of the best ways to strengthen those relationships is to celebrate them. Cheerily reminding donors about a significant date in their relationship with your institution – their donation anniversary – can provide just the feeling of connection they need to strengthen this bond and inspire another round of support.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Donor Retention in the Modern Age.

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Attracting Donors Through Digital Ads

Posted on 09/16/2018

One of the biggest challenges in annual giving is getting a donor’s attention. In an era of social media influencers, YouTube celebrities, and ever-present tweets, relying exclusively on traditional engagement channels may not actually get your message through to the intended audience. And while most institutions know who their prospective donors are, they may not have access to all of the contact data necessary to deliver a traditional appeal – so regardless of how strong the message is, it’s simply not received.

So how do you get through? One way to capture attention and attract donors is through digital advertising. Social media offers a wealth of advertising opportunities that will put your message directly in front of your constituents based on their specific contact information or select audience characteristics like age, location, or gender. Digital ad retargeting takes this concept a step further by marketing to people who have actually interacted with your content or advertising. If a prospective donor clicks on a Facebook ad or visits one of your web pages, you can capture their data and use it to serve them specific online ads to push them back to your website for further engagement.  

One institution that is seeing success with digital ad retargeting is Indiana University. The IU Foundation, which fundraises on behalf of the university, wanted to increase engagement with their parent community. The Foundation team built a Facebook ad campaign to attract potential parents. The ads targeted users who lived in Indiana, had shown interest in IU, and who had children between the ages of 18 and 26. By having remarketing code on the parent engagement webpage, anyone who clicked on those ads was added to a marketing list. This enabled the Foundation to then show them digital ads for IU’s parent program while surfing Facebook and other sites.

According to Brandon Derck, part of the digital marketing team at the IU Foundation that built the ads, the campaign has been part of their emphasis on a multi-channel marketing strategy. The ads show how parents can get involved with IU and don’t automatically assume that the user seeing the ad is a parent. Once a user clicks on the ad, they have essentially affirmed their status as an IU parent and  “opted in” to communication about parent engagement. The goal first and foremost is to drive traffic to IU’s parent program page, where visitors can see the many ways they can get involved. The IU team then uses the data collected through the web traffic to show ads that engage those parents for gifts.

The biggest indicator of success for this approach so far has been the increase in traffic to IU’s parent program page. Prior to the ad campaign, it was not uncommon for the page to have around 50 visits per month. During ad campaign months, the parent page has over 600 unique visitors. The ads are significantly less expensive to run than direct mail or telemarketing efforts – averaging less than $500 per campaign – and are serving as a critical component of the Foundation’s focus on increasing parent giving. As the team points out, getting their message in front of these constituents is the first step.

With new technology comes new opportunities. For the less tech-savvy, it may feel daunting to tackle something that appears as complicated as ad retargeting, but – with a little work – the results can pay dividends for your program. After all, your message can only be successful if your audience actually receives it.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Digital Advertising & Retargeting for Annual Funds.

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Redefining What Counts in Your Annual Fund

Posted on 09/09/2018

With anything in life, you can’t achieve what you don’t measure. If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, it helps to track your weight. Or, if you want to be a better piano player, then you should stick to your practice schedule. The same can be said for your annual fund: if you want to grow, you need to make sure that you are tracking the right things. To do this, it’s critical for your organization to have a clear definition of what constitutes your annual fund – one that everyone within and outside of your annual giving team understands.

When Boston University was preparing to launch its seven-year, $1 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign, the advancement leadership team made it very clear that, regardless of how much money was raised, the campaign would not be considered a success unless it elevated alumni engagement and increased alumni participation through the annual fund. With this in mind, one of the first things the annual giving team did was ask: What constitutes an annual fund gift?

While this might appear to be a straightforward question, it didn’t always yield the same answer. When asked, some of BU’s advancement staff thought annual gifts were determined by their size (e.g., gifts under $25,000) or by the method through which they were solicited (e.g., phonathon, direct mail). Others assumed that the annual fund included only gifts to a single, central unrestricted fund at the university.

While different stakeholders may have had their own interpretations, the true definition of the BU annual fund was actually based on gift designation. Each year, the annual fund revenue total was a reflection of gifts to more than three dozen unit-based discretionary funds and to the central university priority funds, which include scholarships, libraries, student services, and the areas of greatest need. While gifts to these funds may have been restricted to certain areas or programs, they were also considered unrestricted in that the money could be spent at the discretion of the respective administrators. Gifts to funds outside of this criteria, regardless of their size, were not considered annual fund gifts.

One of the inherent challenges found in this definition had to do with stewardship. For example, BU’s annual fund leadership giving society recognized all donors who made a gift of $1,000 or more to the annual fund. If a donor made a leadership-level gift to a current-use restricted fund that was not one of the BU annual fund designations (e.g., history department fund, a club sport fund, a student activity fund), then the donor would not qualify as a member of the annual fund leadership society and would not be eligible for its benefits.

Recognizing the shortcoming in the existing definition as it related to the campaign goals, BU’s annual giving staff worked closely with advancement leadership to lobby for a broader definition of the annual fund that would better align with a donor’s notion of annual giving. This process took over a year and included discussions with deans, the provost, the president, the alumni association board and the board of trustees. Staff compiled data on the past trends and shared future projections under the current and proposed definitions. They also provided benchmarking data to show how annual fund revenue was tracked at a peer institution.

These conversations and accompanying research concluded with a proposal to broaden the definition of BU’s annual fund to include all gifts made to any of the thousands of current-use restricted funds at the university. The team also proposed that for gifts exceeding $100,000, only the first $100,000 would be counted in the annual fund revenue totals. While these donors would still be recognized for their full gift amount, setting a “cap” for reporting purposes would allow for better projections and make sure that outliers would not skew results from one year to the next.

The proposal was unanimously accepted by university leadership, allowing the staff to move forward with the broader definition of annual giving during the remainder of the campaign. This change supported appeal efforts targeted to donor interests, something that was particularly important among younger alumni, who are more inclined to support specific programs than the general needs of the institution. The expanded definition also helped drive a significant increase in annual fund revenue and donors, allowing the advancement team achieve one of the key priorities of the campaign.

Setting goals is critical, but when there’s not consensus about what defines your annual fund – or if your current definition is not well-suited for growth – it’s likely time to reevaluate. Take the lead, do the research, engage with stakeholders, and craft a proposal designed to position your annual fund for success. Once you’ve established the definition, make sure that you align your messaging and reporting to support your strategy going forward. You’ll likely find that after redefining what counts, you can better work toward achieving those goals.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Designing a Winning Annual Fund Plan.

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The Secret to Motivating Annual Fund Staff

Posted on 09/02/2018

Leading an annual giving effort is no small undertaking. Doing it well requires setting clear goals, developing and implementing a strong plan, and evaluating performance along the way. Given all of the moving parts, it’s no surprise that those who gravitate towards a career in annual giving like it when things run smoothly and according to plan. It’s a good day for the annual fund when the big mailing drops on time, when donor pledges are fulfilled, and when appeal codes are properly printed on all of the reply cards.

But in reality, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes there are little bumps in the road that can lead to frustrations. And if they’re not overcome, those frustrations can quickly affect the morale of the entire staff. With this in mind, the industry’s strongest leaders know that motivating their team is a critical component of their job.

There’s no shortage of things you can do to incentivize your annual fund staff. Rewarding success with bonuses and raises, offering professional development opportunities, or simply giving someone a pat on the back after a successful initiative can go a long way. But there’s also a less traditional tactic that can be far more motivating.

Years ago, a study was conducted in a fundraising call center. Callers were split into two equal groups. The first group was offered cash bonuses as a reward for securing pledges. The second group was not offered any cash bonuses, but instead received regular updates about the impact of the gifts. They were told how the very donations that they were responsible for securing were helping real people; they saw pictures and were given the names of beneficiaries. When the study was complete, which group had better fundraising results? If you guessed the second group, you are correct. And the results were not just a little better – they were a LOT better.

The annual giving program at Denison College understands how important communicating impact can be as a staff motivator. Billie Handa, the Director of the Annual Fund at Dennison, explains how she recently had the opportunity to participate in first-year student orientation activities, where she met one particularly passionate upperclassman. As she listened to the student’s story, it became clear to her that this was someone who wanted to make a difference in the world and that their student experience was going to empower them to make that difference.

When Handa returned to the office, she shared the story with her staff. Together, they talked about the impact that their work with the annual fund was having on students and faculty every day, and how they – as individuals and as a team – were doing their part to change the world: one student, one donor, one experience at a time. How many students might not have the financial resources to attend college, to study abroad, or to do their research if the annual fund staff wasn’t working to encourage alumni, parents, and friends to invest in the future? These discussions had an immediate and positive impact on the entire team’s morale and, in a way, motivated them to do their jobs better.

Incentivizing a team to perform at their best is critical, but don’t overlook the opportunity to also inspire them. Fundraising is ultimately about more than hitting goals or setting participation records – it is about providing institutions with the necessary resources to educate tomorrow’s leaders, by giving people the opportunity to invest in that mission. At the end of the day, that meaningful motivation can truly make a difference.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Recruiting & Retaining All-Star Staff.

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